Although the temperatures in the ‘Smoke’ this week were a bit bonkers, there was a serious need for London Shoes to build up the old fitness levels, and so I braved the heat and headed-off on a short 15min train journey to the site of this week’s chosen subject matter.
Anyone who has travelled by train via the TfL/Greater Anglia line to & from the City, will be fully aware of this prominent landmark to the north of the track between Ilford and Manor Park stations – it is certainly a site that I have passed thousands of times in my life during my daily commutes to & from work, plus many other occasions – and I’ve also attended a few services there as well throughout the years. However – I have never taken the time to actually ‘explore’ the place before, and so I felt that this location and the history behind it, was worthy of its very own London Shoes blog publication.
The topic and site in question is the historic “City of London Cemetery” located at Manor Park-London E12 in the London Borough of Newham.
The City of London Cemetery is today a designated and thus protected Grade 1 listed site on the Historic England’s National Register for Historic Parks & Gardens.
The cemetery is owned and run by the City of London Corporation and is the largest ‘municipal’ cemetery site in Europe.
Anyone can be buried or cremated there – there are no restrictions or divisions whatsoever on any faiths, beliefs or non-beliefs.
However, it is the history of how the Cemetery came to be, and the significance that its historic legacy holds today, that makes the place so interesting.
Back in the early to mid-1800’s the growth in London’s population was immense, with the City and its immediate suburbs becoming massively overcrowded.
The more people eventually meant more poverty, more slum dwellings, more sickness & disease and subsequently more deaths – and all those dead bodies had to be buried somewhere.
At that time there were roughly 110 parish churches within the City of London alone, not even including those in the surrounding boroughs – and by 1840 the graveyards of these churches were literally full to the brim, and it was becoming common practice for the church’s to start exhuming and re-burying bodies on top of each other, so that they could all fit in.
The problem was that London’s already poor hygiene standards took a massive nose-dive as disease, serious illness & a subsequent large increase in the death rate, was attributed to the state of all these badly managed overcrowded graveyards, as being one of the main causes.
The problem was so bad that it became headline news here and abroad, which created considerable discontent amongst Londoner’s against the Government and the local authorities.
Clearly, something had to be done fast, and so in 1849 the Government commissioned ‘William Heywood’ one of London’s top sewage & sanitation specialists who had worked closely with Joseph Bazalgette , (the designer of London’s new impressive sewage system) – to provide an official report on just how bad the overcrowded graveyards issue was and its impact on public safety – and what needed to be done to resolve the problem.
In 1852, following Heywood’s report, the Government passed as Act that created an official Government ‘Burial Board’ whose responsibility it was to address the issue.
The Burial Board’s recommendation was for a massive cemetery be built on the outskirts of the City, to enable the 106 parish churches located within the City, to bury their existing and new ‘residents’ outside of the parish in which they died.
In 1853 the task of sorting all this out was given to William Heywood.
Heywood was given £30k to purchase 200 acres of farm land situated on the southern boundaries of Wanstead and Epping Forest – near the then small areas of Manor Park & Forest Gate.
William Heywood set aside 89 of the 200 acres purchased, to specifically be laid out for burial plots. The rest of the land was set aside for admin buildings, an Anglican Chapel, a Dissenters Chapel, Catacombs and various lodges – and of course various roadways to reach all corners of the cemetery.
Once Heywood had sorted out and overseen all the building works including all the extensive landscaping that saw some 3,500 trees planted – the total overall costs had risen to in excess of £45k, way above the original allocated budget.
The very first internment/burial at the newly opened cemetery was in June 1856 – however, because of some legal wrangling over land rights etc, the City of London Cemetery was not officially ‘consecrated’ until November 1857.
By the end of 1858 there had been 2,681 burials at the cemetery.
The passing of the ‘Union of Benefices Act’ in 1860, authorised the demolition of some of the City’s more run down churches, freeing up their graveyards for building developments.
Over 30+ churches in the City had the remains of the dead buried in their graveyards, dug up and reinterred at the City of London Cemetery.
By the beginnings of the 1870’s, the cemetery was so popular that Heywood had to set out more burial plots and roadways within the site to meet demand.
In 1902 a Crematorium was added to the cemetery – this was rebuilt in 1971.
By 1906 the City of London Cemetery had to be extended and enlarged yet again.
1937 saw the inclusion of a Memorial Garden within the grounds of the cemetery – where today, there are some 20,000 rose bushes planted and blooming nicely.
The original entrance gate, the beautiful original chapel, the old & new crematorium buildings , the admin offices, the lodge houses and even one of the original Victorian toilets – are all still in situ and in use throughout the cemetery today – and are kept in immaculate condition.
There are some notable people of historic significance buried at the City of London Cemetery, and it would only be right for London Shoes to try and seek out some of these graves whilst there.
Firstly, just a hundred yards or so inside the beautiful main entry gates into the cemetery, there is a large Gothic Mausoleum commemorating and containing the ashes of William Heywood (b.1821-d.1894), the designer of the City of London Cemetery and the man who made it all happen.
Police officers ‘Robert Bentley’ and ‘Charles Tucker’ who’s murders at the very end of Dec 1910, in the Hounsditch district of the City – and culminated into the historic ‘Sidney Street-Siege’ (eg The Battle of Stepney) in early Jan 1911 – are buried together at the City of London Cemetery.
Two ‘Jack-the-Ripper’ victims are buried at the City of London Cemetery – the very first victim ‘Mary Ann Nichols’ who was murdered in Aug 1888 – and ‘Catherine Eddowes’ who was murdered in Sept 1888.
There is also a commemorative plaque to ‘John Joseph Merrick’ (b.1862-d.1890) the famous ‘Elephant Man’ – Merrick’s remains were not buried, but were used for medical research purposes at the historic ‘London Hospital’ in Whitechapel, where his skeleton is on display.
Also buried at the City of London Cemetery is ‘Elizabeth Everest’ who was the much loved nurse and nanny to Sir Winston Churchill throughout his childhood, and a woman who he had no hesitation in saying, was like a mother to him. Upon her death in 1895, Churchill paid for her headstone and then paid an annual fee to the City of London Cemetery for the regular upkeep of her grave.
The City of London Cemetery is also holds the grave of one of my all-time hero’s, the late great ‘Bobby Moore’ – England’s only World Cup winning captain to date, and the legendary long time captain of my beloved West Ham Utd. Bobby’s ashes are buried in a plot with his mum & dad Robert & Doris.
To date, there are currently over 600,000 buried at the City of London Cemetery and with the inclusion of the 30+ City churches whose graveyard remains were re-interred there – the total figure easily exceeds 1,000,000.
I read in my research that the Cemetery is now close to reaching its capacity, and that, in some cases, they are now re-using old graves where there has not been a ‘connection’ for over 75yrs, providing there are no objections from any surviving relatives etc.
So – that’s all about the history of the iconic City of London Cemetery for you – and I know this is a strange thing to say, but on a sunny day, it really is a lovely place to go for a lovely long peaceful walk – if you’re ever in the area, why not check it out.
see below – all of the many photos supporting this City of London Cemetery blog